The passing of Pete Seeger at the remarkable age of 94 is one that will be felt deeply by many of my generation across the world.
I was born in the late 1950’s, a year after “If I had a Hammer” was first released, I learnt nursery rhymes and Christmas carols as a child.
My first “grown up” songs were “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” shortly followed by “We Shall Overcome” — the words of which I still know by heart.
These, of course, became part and parcel of any and all peace marches, Vietnam Protests and civil resistance.
Here is Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
Pete Seeger had the Art of pressing home some of the most important messages and lessons in life in the simplest of ways through his music and lyrics.
Little Boxes was a classic social commentary on the boxes that society places us in — from our employment and the housing that fueled the economic boom in the USA.
Pete Seeger was the father of American Folk Music which was deemed to have been born in 1940 — the year when he met Woody Guthrie while he was traveling across America after he abandoned his formal education at Harvard University. Together, they formed the Almanac Singers a musical cooperative dedicated to bringing all forms of social injustice to the forefront via music.
His passion for social justice followed him throughout his life. His ten year membership of the Communist party and resulting investigation by HUAC — The House Un-American Activities Committee — in 1955 kept him off mainstream TV and radio networks for seventeen years, even though the charge of contempt of Congress was overturned on appeal.
Typically, for Seeger, he called those years the high point of his career. He spent them touring university and college campuses spreading his messages to an emerging generation of students.
Seeger’s campaigning took him beyond campuses to civil rights, anti-racism, the abolition of the death penalty and Eco-activism via the Clearwater Foundation which he founded in the late 1960’s.
Official recognition for his work and music include induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and a Grammy Award for the best folk album in 1997 and playing alongside “The Boss” — Bruce Springsteen — at the “We Are One” Presidential Inaugural Concert, January 19, 2009.
The classic, This Land is your Land:
Pete Seeger’s real legacy, however, will be found wherever there is strife and people gather around the campfire or brazier and sing the anthem of hope: We Shall Overcome.
Fantastic article, Nicola! Pete was a great mind and musician.
We also should not forget to celebrate his beautiful wife, Toshi — who died in July of last year at 91:
Thank you so much for adding your celebration of his wife Toshi – the picture is now complete 🙂
Pete was a big fan of Toshi. Without her, he would not have been as wildly successful. I was extremely concerned for him when she died first.
I was reading a little more she really was his rock and right hand woman.
I really think she was the one who brought him to the world for us — I think Pete would have been happy to sit on a rock in the woods. His legacy is much of her mastery.
She most certainly was a great enabler – taking on all that she could to let him do what he did best.
Enabler in a good way, right?
That word has such a negative context now in the USA — as in “enabling dysfunctional behavior.”
David ………….. yes in the most positive way – and ACK to the negative context – maybe I have to change my language to empowering !
I think empowering is just the right word!